There’s a standard for Pat Narduzzi defenses to limit explosive plays. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate them, but he wants his defenses to hold opponents under four every game.
Pitt’s defense locked Western Michigan down to the tune of just 180 yards and 13 points. 31 yards came on an explosive in the form of a trick play touchdown pass. West Virginia and Tennessee racked up their share of explosives, but the defense rebounded against WMU.
Pitt held Rhode Island to 281 yards and 24 points. 63 yards came on a Marques DeShields rushing touchdown in the first quarter, 45 yards came on a Paul Woods catch and run in the second quarter and six points came on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Darius Savedge in the fourth quarter.
Two explosives and a play in which one of Pitt’s outside linebackers was caught out of position. The three plays resulted in 14 points and 123 yards.
DeShields’ 63-yard scamper came off a draw play in which DeShields ran straight through a gaping B gap. It was a play, Narduzzi said, that John Morgan and P.J. O’Brien needed to be sharper in both positioning and on-field play.
“The big run was John Morgan, the left end, and P.J. O’Brien are the two factors.” Narduzzi said Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “It’s a formation to the boundary, and we like the d-end to be a little tighter, to make that hole a little bit smaller, and we’d like the safety to be a little bit better than what he was.”
“But you live and learn. You put guys in there and expect them to make plays. John’s not used to playing a lot to the field — he’s usually in the boundary. So, you just kinda juggle things around a little bit.”
Morgan has been heavily relied upon on the edge this season as Habakkuk Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre, Dayon Hayes and Nate Temple have missed time, and he’s grown into an impactful defensive end — especially in rushing the passer. But Narduzzi pointed to Morgan’s inexperience in playing to the field in impacting the play. And O’Brien’s own overall inexperience contributed.
Woods’ 45-yard catch and run came off a wide-open look, a quick crossing route in which Brandon George and Solomon DeShields got mixed up and left Woods with yards of space underneath. He made Pitt pay with a long catch and run, and a couple of 15-yard penalties would push Rhode Island inside the Pitt 2-yard line.
And while the final 15-yard touchdown pass to Savedge wasn’t exactly an explosive play, it was a play in which Bangally Kamara was caught in no man’s land in coverage.
“That was Bangally, for sure, based on the formation,” Narduzzi said. “The pressure wasn’t as good, but yeah, Bangally could’ve been a lot better on that coverage, for sure. I think if he was where he needed to be lined up, you know, different formations, different things, we don’t run a ton of that, but he could’ve picked it off or knocked the guy out.”
Kamara has recorded 19 tackles (eight solo), a half tackle for loss and three pass breakups this season as he’s stepped into the starting Star linebacker spot. He’s an incredibly versatile athlete who is still growing into his role as an every-down linebacker. He has the tools, but Narduzzi wants to see more consistency from Kamara.
“It’s details every play. It’s consistency,” Narduzzi said. “He makes good plays. He does one play late in the game on a different route that sometimes you don’t see. You can’t practice everything, so those are all things — you can put that on coach, put it on him, he knows what he’s got to do. And he got too much depth too. He was just too deep. It’s a three-deep, it’s a two-under, move and go and he’s usually pretty good at that.”
Pitt’s defense has been up and down through four weeks, mostly up, and the explosive plays have been an area of emphasis for Pitt’s defense. As ACC play kicks off this week against Georgia Tech, limiting explosive plays will be paramount going forward.
A handful of explosive plays against Rhode Island is one thing. A handful of explosives against ACC competition is another thing.